By Ann H. Burns
“Woman is weak — no, she is humble, she is much closer to God than man is. Hence it is that love is everything to her, and she will certainly not disdain the blessing and confirmation which God is ready to bestow upon her.” — Soren Kierkegaard
Women have been told countless times that their feminine qualities are actually the things that bring them down. That means, their goodness, their purity, their softness is fulsome. In fact, the mere concept of being the physically weaker sex, is regarded not only as antediluvian, but as a repulsive concept left over from a domineering patriarchy.
What exactly is wrong with being softer, gentler, and more nurturing? Is it possible that our culture puts such an emphasis on worldly gain and glittering careers, that we forget that those accomplishments were meant to serve, and help foster a more meaningful life outside the office, rather than it be an end in itself?
What is the Feminine?
To answer the question of the feminine, let’s turn to the classic fairy-tale “Snow White.” One rendition explores the idea that when the glamorous step-mother ruled the land, earth was entranced by a perpetual winter. Whereas, when the fair Snow White came to rule, spring burst forth through the piercing cold, and life was renewed.
This particular interpretation presents exceptional insight. First, the beauty of the stepmother is turned inward; it is self-consumed. Her beauty is twisted up in vanity. It is self-serving. “What can I gain? Am I the best? Am I enough?”
She idolizes her beauty. Nonetheless, her self-adulation cannot produce anything good. It is stifled.
As such, while she ruled, the world was lifeless.
Alternatively, Snow White’s beauty is founded in her purity, her tenderness, and her compassion for others. She never squanders time obsessing over her own charms, but rather gives herself in servitude. Her beauty flows from the internal – her purity and motherly nature – and is manifested through her external beauty.
She is the one who brings forth life.
As the story goes, the huntsman, who was sent to slaughter Snow White, is unable to do so in the face of her goodness. When Snow White hides from her stepmother, she does not spend it in anxiety, but rather extends herself in service to others.
Her entire life is spent in love for others and as guardian of goodness.
Snow White is a paragon of feminine virtue. She is a vessel of life. As long as her heart beats, there is hope for the world in which she lives.
Femininity is the heart of society, without a heart nothing else can live.
As Edith Stein said, “It’s not what women have, but rather what women are that the world needs.”
Our world asserts the opposite. Our world informs us that what we have is needed, but who we are, in our femininity, is not good enough. This message poisons the hearts and minds of women; it teaches us that our femininity is our downfall, when in reality it’s our greatest quality. Just think of popular television shows, movies, literature, where girl-power reigns supreme and the woman can take on an army of men. It’s unrealistic, but supposedly it empowers us to believe something so far-fetched.
Instead, if we turn to the Bible, we see a different understanding of women. When God created Adam, he had to go out and learn to be a man before he was ready for Eve. Whereas, when God created Eve, she came to Adam as she was. She woke up in love and was made for the relational. She was made to be a vessel of life. Her greatest accomplishment was in fulfilling her God-given calling: to be a mother to the living, which is tremendous and awe-inspiring. And perhaps, even, God freely gave her this gift of femininity. She did not need to go out and acquire it, but rather just allow herself to be blessed.
God reaffirms the importance of the maternal role of the woman, when He makes Mary Our Blessed Mother.
When we belittle our innate maternal calling, we devalue who we are in our essence, because suddenly, the role God gave us is not “good enough.” We need something else. We cause a rift in our heart, a disconnect. We start to look for our value outside of ourselves, and often, spend our entire lives looking for it: we are searching outside of who God created us to be.
If that is our approach, we will always be lost; we will be haunted by feelings of pressure and insignificance. What have I gained? Am I the best? Am I enough? These thoughts produce nothing because they stem from brokenness and egoism. In fact, they thwart us from being the women we are made to be: just like the Queen Stepmother.
How Do We Heal?
We don’t have to look far to heal the brokenness in our hearts: we need to embrace our femininity and not be ashamed of womanliness.
Being womanly is so good and necessary. Being gentle is beautiful. When we are gentle, a powerful strength surges forth, heals, rejuvenates, and gives life. When we are gentle we are strong. When we are loving, and ready to give of ourselves, spring conquers the coldness of winter.
It might just be the strongest thing in the world: to nurture and to love no matter what challenge or bitterness we face. Women are capable of that, we are able to be soft even when we live in a world that has been corroded by destruction and egotism. A world that has gone cold.
That is our strength. That is our power.
We do not need to “prove” our worth to a cold-hearted world because our worth is embedded inside of us. Woven into us, by God, is the gift of our femininity. A gift that is so resplendent and meant to be shared, to shine through and resuscitate a crumbling culture. All we need to do is embrace it.
Our womanhood is an honor. It is there that we find purpose, meaning, and a receptivity to the love of God. It is there that we discover we were made to give of ourselves as mothers or spiritual mothers, and in turn be blessed and filled with love.
Embracing our femininity is like unlocking the most dazzling treasure box. And you do not have to go searching for it; it is inside you.
Ann H. Burns is a graduate of Christendom College, as well as the founder of The Feminine Project, a Catholic organization dedicated to restoring authentic femininity through faith, friendship, and cultivating the mind. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband Ed.
You can find out more about the Feminine Project at feminineproject.com or join their community at community.feminineproject.com where women can connect virtually and in person, build community, partake in classes, attend fun events, all while exploring and promoting our true God-given femininity.